Some charter school networks are investing millions in data science professionals and analytics platforms. Others, more cash-strapped but still striving to be data-driven, are running their analytics programs on shoestring budgets. Both instances are instructive for how private educational institutions are incorporating analytics into their operations.

New York City-based New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit charter school system that operates 10 charter schools with 3,600 students, is an example of a school pouring millions into data science.

Hiring Data Scientists Instead of Teachers?

New Visions is investing $8 million into its School Systems and Data Analytics team, which boasts 26 staffers, instead of hiring more teachers. New Visions officials believe that the school was being held back by its poor organizational systems, that its teachers were being distracted by administrative work, and that its students were not getting the best education because of bureaucratic inefficiencies and ill-informed decisions.

Hiring more teachers was not answer, according to New Visions. What was need was a way to process all the available data into real-time information that would reduce the workload on the teachers and would maintain focus on student development.

The huge analytics team assembled by New Visions has rolled out a full slate of educational and administrative tools. Their Data Portal system allows the monitoring of individual students right down to class attendance and grade performance. It also highlights areas that need improvement as well as tracking individual needs that clear the way to graduation. New Visions attributes recent increases in graduation rates and college readiness rates to the new systems put in place.

Analytics on a Budget

Taking a different view is the New Orleans-based ReNew Schools. ReNew doesn’t have the financial resources of New Visions, so its analytics staff consists of just three people and a $250,000 budget. Instead of developing their own software, they have chosen to go with available commercial software like PowerSchool and Schoolrunner despite compatibility and accessibility issues with their other software.

ReNew officials admit that the situation is not perfect — but as a budget-conscious organization, they have to look at their priorities. And data science and analytics, while important, is not a top priority at the moment.

ReNew really has more problems to worry about as three of the six schools they run in Louisiana have had their charters revoked after they fell below the required performance standards. Who knows whether a more robust analytics department would have changed that outcome.

“Data-driven” decisions aren’t the be-all end-all of strong management and administration. If they were, investing millions in analytics would be an easier choice.